Saturday, April 15, 2006

In Iraqi Divide, Echoes of Bosnia for U.S. Troops - New York Times

In Iraqi Divide, Echoes of Bosnia for U.S. Troops - New York Times:

"JURF AS-SAKHR, Iraq — As Lt. Col. Patrick Donahoe scans the horizon through the mud-splattered, inch-thick windows of his armored Humvee, he can almost see Bosnia through the palm trees.

It is not there yet, Colonel Donahoe said, but the communal hatred he has witnessed in this area of Iraq, the blindingly ignorant things people say, the pulling apart of Shiite and Sunni towns that were once tightly intertwined are all reminiscent of what he saw years ago as a young Army captain on a peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia.

'You talk to people here and it's literally the same conversations I heard in Bosnia,' Colonel Donahoe said. 'I had a police colonel tell me the other day that all the people in Jurf,' a predominantly Sunni town, 'are evil, including the children.'

Jurf as-Sakhr, also known as Jurf, is 40 miles south of Baghdad. It is a community of crumbly dirt farms and dilapidated weapons factories and boys selling fluffy white chickens alongside the road. It sits right on a sectarian fault line that in the past few months has cracked wide open, and Colonel Donahoe is now back to playing peacekeeper.

The work is emblematic of a new role for the American soldier in Iraq, because as the threat has shifted, so has the mission. Sectarian violence is killing more people and destabilizing Iraq more than the antigovernment insurgency ever did. In response, American commanders, especially those in mixed Sunni-Shiite areas like Jurf, are throwing their armor, troops and money directly into the divide, trying to keep Iraq from violently partitioning the way Bosnia did."

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